Duluth artist talks travels, teaching and making murals

“It’s not necessarily about documentation of landscape … but finding a physical manifestation that attaches a person to that mood." — Paul Lajeunesse, Duluth painter

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Paul LaJeunesse, assistant art professor at the College of St. Scholastica, poses for a portrait Wednesday, Nov. 25, in front of a mural he painted in Lincoln Park. (Tyler Schank /

You’ve seen it by now.

Painted on Frost River in the Lincoln Park Craft District, Paul Lajeunesse’s mural shows people pounding steel, working fabric and serving food in brilliant reds, greens and yellows with a backdrop of woods and water.

Lajeunesse (pronounced la janess) interviewed Bent Paddle Brewery, Hemlocks Leatherworks, Duluth MakerSpace and more to understand and best represent the "blue collar, handmade neighborhood,” he said in 2017.

The assistant professor at the College of St. Scholastica has also painted murals for the Government Services Center in Virginia, Minnesota, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

More than murals, he paints landscapes and interiors, where he focuses on finding the "outward expression" of an inward feeling.


“It’s not necessarily about documentation of landscape … but finding a physical manifestation that attaches a person to that mood,” he said.

The News Tribune checked in about his process, where he’s been and what he’s working on now.

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Paul LaJeunesse, assistant art professor at the College of St. Scholastica, poses for a portrait Wednesday, Nov. 25, in front of a mural he painted in Lincoln Park. (Tyler Schank /

Q: Describe your go-to creative setting (place, time of day, music).

A: I have different projects for different moods and trust how I feel to dictate what I work on. In the mornings, when calm, I usually work on detailed parts of paintings and drawings. As the day wears on, I will likely switch to working on broader areas of color.

In the early afternoon, I am more likely to work on digital imaging and proposals for upcoming projects, or put together an exhibition proposal and perhaps my written communication.

I no longer work much in the evenings and use that time to unplug.


Q: You’ve traveled across the globe: Ohio for school, Oregon and Georgia to teach, Japan and Iceland to exhibit your work. Tell me about a couple of inspiring experiences you’ve had from your travels.

A: My first time abroad was when I studied at the Atelier Neo Medici in Monflanquin, France, under the tutelage of Patrick Betuaider. I learned what Max Doerner called the Technique Mixte, which is the process used in Flanders and northern Europe combining layers of opaque tempera paint with oil glazes.

Being in another country was the first time I was truly out of my comfort zone. I was happily out of place and open to new ways of seeing things, new cultures, new ideas. It was a very positive change.

Spending nine months in Iceland was otherworldly. It's such a unique topography and climate, and the people I met were gracious and open, but also very direct. I met kind and helpful people everywhere I traveled and value those relationships more than anything.

Q: You were Duluth Art Institute’s first artist-in-residence. What are your takeaways from that experience?

A: I made a better connection with the artistic community in Duluth and the business owners of the Lincoln Park Craft District. I also met Pam Kramer and Lars Kunehow from LISC and Shannon Laing from Ecolibrium3 and was able to learn about the work those organizations do in Lincoln Park and Duluth. It was a very impressive group of business owners and community members, all of whom I have great respect for.

Q: Give us a quick breakdown of your mural-making process.

A: I use PolyTab 20r and coat it with acrylic, which makes a very durable, flexible and lightweight substrate. After priming it with titanium white, and transfer the design from a digital image to an outline drawing, I then block in basic colors. I develop detail in the painting using glazing techniques. Finally, I apply the material to a prepared wall with novagel. It goes up almost like wallpaper.


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Paul LaJeunesse, assistant art professor at the College of St. Scholastica, poses for a portrait Wednesday, Nov. 25, in front of a mural he painted in Lincoln Park. (Tyler Schank /

Q: How does working on a community art project, such as a mural, influence your understanding of a city?

A: First and foremost, I meet the constituents, and learn about how they perceive the city and their identity within the city. I believe people develop their values and make decisions in relation to their social structures, and you can really see a city as an expression of cultural beliefs instead of only structures, buildings, roads, etc.

Q: What did you learn about Duluth working on the Lincoln Park mural?

A: I met the Craft District business owners and was able to really learn their processes and their overall commitment to Lincoln Park, Duluth and sustainable practices. Aerostitch and Frost River employ a lot of tailors and craftspeople in the garment industry, which is not thriving regionally.

Bent Paddle has multiple practices to reuse spent grain, reclaim water and works to preserve our waterways. OMC Smokehouse supports local and regional farmers. Duluth Pottery is an exhibition space for regional artists to sell their work.

Every business in the Craft District is very positively affecting the economy of Lincoln Park and Duluth.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I completed a proposal for South Central College Mankato campus for a public art project. I am also completing a series of drawings which will be for an exhibition at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, in May of 2021.

Q: Does teaching affect your process or creativity? If so, how?

A: I frequently find myself committing the same mistakes I tell my students to avoid, so teaching is a daily reminder of how to stay with the process for the best results.

Q: Advice for other creatives?

A: Everyone is creative, and I would love for everyone to openly embrace their creativity. Ideation and brainstorming are skills that atrophy if not frequently used. Lastly, the best way to learn is by making mistakes and doing something wrong. Embrace making mistakes.

Q: What are you reading, listening to and watching?

A: I just finished "The Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole and am nearly finished reading "The Last Frontiersman" by James Campbell.


The "Final Frontiersman" is a biography about Heimo Korth, one of the last people permitted to live in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He is a fur trapper who lives a fully subsistent life in one of the harshest and most difficult climates on earth.

I have been listening to Hammock, Little People, Boards of Canada, Lord Huron, Moby and Band of Horses quite a lot

Q: If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, (and COVID safely) who would they be?

A: Dave Chapelle is at the top. His insights are so poignant, cutting and hilarious. He's an artist.

President Barack Obama. I admire and respect him so much and truly feel he was drastically underrated. I would have so many questions for him.

The last one is hard, right? I don't get to pick anyone after this. It's between Conan O'Brien and Ricky Gervais. Whichever one is available that day.

More info about his work:


Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346,
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